Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s home in Kent, has opened a new exhibition Clementine Churchill: Speaking for Herself, focusing on the extraordinary life of Churchill’s beloved wife Clementine. The exhibition at the National Trust property features items that have never been publicly displayed before, including treasured childhood photographs and a portrait by Paul Maze, the Post Impressionist artist. Read More >
Lady Williams of Elvel, who as Jane Portal served as a secretary to Winston Churchill from 1949 to 1955, received a standing ovation after speaking in conversation with Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys at the Thirty-fourth International Churchill Conference in New York City. For one hour, the two women shared their memories of the busy life of the Greatest Briton. To watch the full video, please click here. Read More >
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Randolph Churchill
My father, the younger Winston, like his father Randolph, was born during a tumultuous world war. He loved the fact that he was born on 10 October 1940, during the Battle of Britain, at the Prime Minister’s country house Chequers. The night before, his imminent arrival was foreshadowed by the delivery of a German bomb landing one hundred yards from the house. My father liked to say that he was the next bombshell to arrive at Chequers!
Thus began a life full of adventure, daring, and a role on the international stage, which lasted six decades. He inherited the energy and dynamism of his father—my grandfather—who in 1941 in the Libyan desert with SAS founder David Stirling talked his way into the Benghazi German naval base, remained there for twenty-four hours and succeeded in doing no damage to the enemy before they talked their way out. Randolph had an eventful life, full of political opinion and a good measure of drama. Winston’s mother Pamela, the irrepressible daughter of Lord and Lady Digby of Minterne, met Randolph in autumn 1939 on a blind date and married him three weeks later. Theirs was a generation where the cocktail of the war years provided impetus to getting married expeditiously.
Growing up Winston
It was never going to be easy growing up as effectively an only child (his half-sister Arabella was nine years younger) and also as the namesake and grandson of the legendary wartime Prime Minister. My father noted: “I had come to realise from an early age that the name of Winston Churchill, which I was so proud to bear, was both a lot to live up to and a lot to live down.” He was a young man in a hurry. He would often escort his mother on her travels and lacked the benefit of growing up with siblings and other young ones around him. He never liked structure or authority, and he did not enjoy his time at school. He wanted to get on and make his mark in life.
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Sarah Churchill
In her 1981 memoir Keep on Dancing, Sarah Churchill recalls how her show business aspirations were temporarily placed on hold when she and her sister Diana were called upon by their brother to support the family profession.
In January 1935 the routine of dancing classes was interrupted by a Parliamentary by-election. My brother Randolph decided to stand as an independent Conservative candidate in the Wavertree division of Liverpool. He was not, needless to say, looking for a safe seat, but he took the candidacy with alacrity as a challenge. He commandeered Diana and me to go up to Liverpool to help in the campaign. I murmured something about my dancing, which he imperiously pooh-poohed: politics were far more important. I adored him, so I went meekly—later enthusiastically—to help.
The political hustings were quite familiar since as children we had often accompanied my father on his campaigns. On this occasion my father watched Randolph from afar with a proud paternal eye, but desisted firmly from intruding, although he was obviously dying to. He confined himself to one appearance at an eve-of-poll meeting….[My mother] was away during Randolph’s campaign, so I kept her informed with two long letters:
22 January 1935
Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool
…I came up here last night to be with Randolph for his first meeting. It was very exciting. Sunday he was very depressed as he could get hold of no one, and everything was closed. Monday he Read More >
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Celia and John Lee
In 1996 an article in the American press discussed “great leadership,” based on a work of psychology by Professor Dean K. Simonton published in 1994. It surmised that “only children” made good leaders in times of crisis and deduced that Winston Churchill fitted that category perfectly. It is small wonder that for all of his lifetime Jack Churchill, Sir Winston’s only sibling, remained an enigma. He has been shrouded in a whispering campaign that he was not a Churchill at all and any one of six different men have been cited as being his “real” father. Celia Lee’s six years’ research in the Churchills’ papers shows these allegations to be simply untrue.
John Strange Spencer Churchill (Jack) was born in Dublin on 4 February 1880, during the time his grandfather, the seventh Duke of Marlborough, was Viceroy of Ireland, and his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was serving as his Private Secretary. The family lived there from December 1876 until April 1880. The men variously supposed to be Jack’s father never set foot in Ireland during that time, with the exception of John Strange Jocelyn, the fifth Earl of Roden. This man has been seized upon by various authors because of the unusual use of his second name as Jack’s, and it has been claimed Lady Randolph had an affair with him. Celia contacted the present Earl of Roden and determined that Jocelyn had only arrived in what is today Northern Ireland in January 1880, having inherited the title from his nephew who died of tuberculosis in Paris. Jocelyn was a lifelong friend of the seventh duke and a respectable married man with a wife and daughter living in England. Peregrine Churchill (Jack’s younger son) explained to Celia that Jocelyn, en route to visit an estate he had inherited in County Down, stopped off with the Duke and Duchess at the Viceregal Lodge in Dublin, and Jack was born whilst he was there. He stood as godfather to the child, explaining the honorific use of his middle name, as Jack was primarily named after John Churchill, the great first Duke of Marlborough.
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Paul Addison
Lord Randolph Churchill ’s life has long been over-shadowed by the enduring fame of his son. By comparison with Winston’s heroic feats as a war leader, the father’s political career was brief, embedded in the obscure and long-forgotten politics of late Victorian Britain, and a conspicuous failure. It is no surprise, therefore, that he attracts comparatively little attention, but in one respect, at least, the situation fails to do him justice. Winston Churchill was, in more ways than one, his father’s creation.
Randolph Churchill (1849–1895) was the second surviving son of the seventh Duke of Marlborough. After Eton, and Magdalen College Oxford, where he obtained a respectable degree in law and history, he devoted most of his time to fox hunting. In 1874 he was elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative MP for Woodstock, a small country town at the gates of Blenheim Palace, where the duke’s influence over the electors virtually guaranteed his victory. Randolph contested the seat partly from loyalty to his family, and partly in return for his father’s permission to marry Jennie Jerome, a match of which he initially disapproved. As yet he gave no sign of ambition and neglected politics in favour of high society. He and Jennie were a dazzling young couple at the heart of the “Marlborough House Set,” the favourite friends and companions of “Bertie,” the philandering Prince of Wales.
In 1876 a scandal plunged Randolph into conflict with “Bertie.” The Earl of Aylesford, a companion of the Prince, planned to divorce his wife on the grounds that she had committed adultery with Randolph’s elder brother, the Marquess of Blandford. In an attempt to prevent the scandal from becoming public, Randolph threatened to produce compromising letters the Prince had written to Lady Aylesford some years before. It was a daring move, driven by ferocious loyalty to the good name of the Churchills. Aylesford dropped the divorce proceedings, but the Prince was furious and instructed his friends to ostracise Randolph, in effect banishing him from high society. For the next eight years, until a reconciliation occurred, Randolph lived under the shadow of royal displeasure. “In the interval,” wrote Winston in his father’s biography, “a nature originally genial and gay contracted a stern and bitter quality, a harsh contempt for what is called ‘Society’, and an abiding antagonism to rank and authority.”
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Paul J. Taylor
Winston Churchill once observed about a photo of his grandfather Leonard Jerome that he was “very fierce.” “I’m the only tame one they’ve produced,” he said modestly.1 Jerome, like his grandson, spent a lifetime beating the odds.
Despite an historic disdain for hereditary aristocracy, Americans love to create their own—if transitory—nobility. They are the wealthy, stars, glamorous, or notorious. Leonard Jerome was all that and more: he was a feisty, flamboyant, ultra-wealthy investor, sportsman, diplomat, raconteur, and arts patron. He easily made fortunes and easily lost them. His friends were a “Who’s Who” of the nouveau riche elite, and by age forty his informal moniker was “The King of Wall Street.”
Jerome’s life started humbly in 1817: he was one of ten children who tended chickens and other livestock on father Isaac’s farm in Palmyra, New York. Arriving in Palmyra at the same time was the family of a young Joseph Smith, who went on to found the Mormon church. The Jeromes had their own religious antecedents. Their French Huguenot forebears immigrated in 1710.
At age fourteen, Leonard toiled in a store, where he learned to haggle. He followed brothers to Princeton University, but, struggling with math and expenses, he transferred to and graduated from the less expensive Union College in Schenectady, New York. He then studied law and started a practice before an entrepreneurial spirit led him to found a newspaper and printing business. Both succeeded thanks to his shrewd management and hard-hitting political editorials.
Celia Sandys, author of several excellent books about her grandfather Sir Winston Churchill, will interview Lady Williams of Elvel, the former Jane Portal and one of Sir Winston’s last-surviving secretaries, at the 34th International Churchill Conference, which will take place at the J. W. Marriott Essex House in New York City next October 10, 11, and 12. Follow this link to register today.
Celia’s books include The Young Churchill about her grandfather’s youth, Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive about his adventures in South Africa, and Chasing Churchill about his various travels. She is Co-Chair of the International Churchill Society Board of Advisers and a highly popular speaker.
There is no doubting that Churchill and Clementine’s long marriage was a successful one; their relationship remained close and intimate, despite – or perhaps because of – lengthy periods apart. Even when Churchill wasn’t away working, but was on one of his many holidays, he tended to leave the children at home with Clementine or the nannies.
Churchill relished his holidays and time abroad, painting and relaxing, and accepted invitations to spend time with friends and acquaintances whenever he could, often on the Continent. Clementine, however, often ‘found the company tedious’ (Mary Soames, A Churchill Family Album) and, after 1918, they often holidayed apart. In the winter/spring 1935, the Churchills were invited to join Lord Moyne (Walter Guinness) aboard the yacht ‘Rosaura’ for a long four-month cruise of the Far East. Churchill, preoccupied with the final stages of his biography of Marlborough, didn’t feel able to go, but Clementine, having surprisingly acquired a taste for exotic travel, decided to go. Churchill wrote affectionate and domestic letters – a series of ‘Chartwell Bulletins’ – to his wife in which he gave her the latest news of home, family and his collection of farm animals and pets. Here he tells her that ‘the guinea pigs have died … How paltry you must consider these domestic tales of peaceful England compared to your dragons and tuartuaras’. There were occasional family holidays, too.
‘You all looked so sweet & beautiful standing there, & I thought how fortunate I am to have such a family – Do not be vexed with your vagabond Cat. She has gone off towards the jungle with her tail in the air, but she will return presently to her basket & curl down comfortably …Tender love.’
Clementine, to Churchill, 18 December 1934, Baroness Spencer-Churchill Papers
Churchill had been determined to have a happy family – to maintain those ‘dominating virtues of human society’ – but he lived so many other lives – as a politician, as a war leader, and had so many passionate interests (writing, painting, holidays) – that his family was, to a greater or lesser degree, squeezed in among these other busy lives. There were painful consequences, of course, but Clementine had always accepted that her husband must come first (and ‘second and third’) and worked tirelessly to support him. And his children, however, they responded to the pressures of being the great man’s children, appreciated, and were proud of, all he had done for them and for the country.
Churchill was a devoted grandfather. He lived to have ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and both he and Clementine took great pleasure in being surrounded by their family, with the swimming pool and croquet lawn as great attractions.The Churchill family today continues to be very active in the fields in which Winston distinguished himself. Among Winston and Clementine’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren are family members who have achieved distinction in their own right as biographers and authors, in journalism and in art, and in serving their country in politics, government and the armed forces, and who carry forward the many aspects of the Churchillian legacy with pride.
‘Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and to millions tragic and terrible years?’
Letter from Churchill to Clementine, 23 January 1935, quoted in Official Biography by Gilbert
But it wasn’t always an easy marriage. Apart from their political disagreements and heated arguments – and spinach throwing episodes – both Winston and Clementine were prone to periods of depression – Churchill with his ‘black dog’ and Clementine with all her worries and concerns about life with the great man and the children – and both were also increasingly frail and unwell. When the War was over and Churchill had been voted out of office, life was miserable. With Churchill exhausted and increasingly depressed by his enforced inactivity, the children continuing to cause concern and distress and Clementine herself suffering from ill-health, there was considerable friction in the Churchill household. They had always holidayed separately, since 1918. Now tensions at home were eased by increasing time spent apart – Churchill began to spend more and more time abroad for his health, and his painting, with Clementine staying at home, relishing the peace and quiet and recuperating from her own ailments – and these separations served to remind them of their dependence upon each other; throughout these lengthy periods of separation, they continued to write each other affectionate letters. They did, however, travel together to France in 1958, to Lord Beaverbrook’s villa, La Capponcina, at Cap D’Ail where they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.
‘I cannot explain how it is but in our misery we seem, instead of clinging to each other to be always having scenes. I’m sure it’s all my fault, but I’m finding life more than I can bear. He is so unhappy & that makes him very difficult… I can’t see any future.’
Clementine to Mary, 26 August 1945, quoted in Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill
All the Churchills supported their father. The children, to varying degrees, served him – and their country – in the Second World War, too. Diana served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), Sarah with the Photographic Interpretation Unit of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and Mary served in the armed forces in mixed anti-aircraft (AA) batteries with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Mary also attended the Quebec conference of 1943 as an aide to her father, while Sarah played a similar role at Teheran in 1943 and Yalta in 1945. Randolph served as an Intelligence Officer in the Middle East, was attached to the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS), and undertook missions in the Libyan desert and in Yugoslavia.
Despite Churchill’s belief in the importance of family and family life, he was also a relentlessly ambitious man and politics and government naturally took up huge amounts of his time, regularly taking him away from his family. He was often away from home – ‘more urgently occupied’, as Mary later wrote – either fighting wars or fighting elections. Clementine was politically astute and well-informed and, not content to sit on the sidelines, played an influential part in his political life. Like most women of her day, Clementine accepted that her own interests must always come second to those of her husband, but she acted as his political agent in London while he was serving in the trenches in the First World War (after he was sacked from the Admiralty and then resigned from government in 1915). She offered advice and met up with political leaders in London, determined to protect his political reputation in his absence.
‘I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know … There is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues & subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner … I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be … I cannot bear that those who serve the Country & yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you.’
Clementine in a letter to Churchill, 27 June 1940, in Soames, Speaking for Themselves
Churchill’s marriage to Clementine remained the cornerstone of his private life but his family life had its share of personal sadness. Aside from the distress caused by his children’s wayward lives, he lived long enough to witness the death of many of those close to him. His mother, the beautiful and glamorous Jennie, died aged only sixty-seven, in June 1921 (she had tripped, wearing high heels, down a staircase and broke her ankle; it didn’t heal and, suffering from gangrene, she eventually had the foot amputated; after enduring several weeks of pain, she died suddenly of a massive haemorrhage). Only months later, the Churchills’ beloved ‘Duckadilly’ died, aged only two and nine months. Churchill’s oldest friend and companion, his younger brother Jack, died in February 1947, six years after the death of ‘Goonie’ (Gwendoline, Jack’s wife), in 1941. Churchill was devastated at the loss and wrote to Hugh Cecil, ‘I feel lonely now that he is not here after 67 years of brotherly love’ (Gilbert, Never Despair). And of course, his daughter Diana died before he did, aged only fifty-four, in 1963.